Chicago-Area Contract Manufacturer Gets Lean to Drive Growth
Burr Ridge - 50 employees - www.fusionoem.com
As a contract manufacturer serving U.S. companies that need cost-effective, low-volume outsourcing, Fusion OEM has found its business essentially recession-proof. But that isn’t stopping the Burr Ridge company from seeking opportunities-with IMEC’s support-to diversify and grow.
“Manufacturers are the first to get hit and the last to emerge from a recession,” said Fusion OEM President Craig Zoberis, who founded the company just after 9/11. “But they’re smart-they’re weeding out unnecessary processes, trying to be more agile and turning to outsourcing versus making additional investments in capital and talent. That’s where we come into play.”
Fusion OEM specializes in low-volume manufacturing, making products for other manufacturers who no longer want to produce them internally, but don’t have the volume to make outsourcing overseas a cost-effective alternative. The company serves about a dozen customers today-primarily in the printing, packaging, oil and gas, and medical industries-but wants to diversify. That desire to grow led Zoberis to the Chicago-based TMA, an Illinois manufacturing association, which recommended IMEC as a resource for lean manufacturing training.
Instead of immediately starting to implement lean on the shop floor, however, Fusion OEM took a different approach. “People always think of lean as a way to reduce manufacturing costs,” Zoberis said. “But there are a lot of inefficiencies in your front-office processes as well. IMEC helped us tackle this low-hanging fruit.”
Together, Fusion OEM and IMEC analyzed processes related to quoting, buying and ordering, then identified and implemented a series of efficiency improvements. With this step complete, Zoberis asked IMEC to take all 50 of his office and production employees through “Lean 101” over a two-day period. As part of this training, Fusion OEM employees participated in a hands-on exercise unrelated to their daily work, which Zoberis believes had an immediate effect on productivity.
“We have a lot of small jobs, and we want to empower our employees to organize and execute them without much management input,” he said. “The Lean 101 training gave them the knowledge and tools to tackle this work on their own as efficiently as possible.”
Zoberis also noticed a jump in morale after his team participated in the lean activities. “We’ve been able to get rid of inefficient work, and people were able to weigh in on the process. Now we have a lean, happy culture. I can’t measure it, but I can feel it.”
The most important benefit Zoberis anticipates, though, is his company’s ability to grow. “We want to be able to scale the company, to remain lean in terms of the number of employees we have, but still add new business,” he said. “Whenever we’ve taken on additional work in the past, it’s been a strain on our infrastructure. Now we’re better equipped to handle new customers.”
Zoberis believes lean processes are essential not just for Fusion OEM, but for all manufacturers who want to survive and grow in a global marketplace-and he appreciates IMEC’s approach to helping companies like his get lean.
“I love the basic concept of IMEC. They help you discover issues, make it clear to your team where those issues lie, identify solutions and then train your people to put those solutions in place and sustain them,” he said. “As a manufacturer, you only have so much cash available to commit to this kind of work. IMEC is as effective as possible with your money. Every second they were here was beneficial to me and my employees. It was worth every penny we invested.”